Treatment Options for Alcohol Abuse


Various treatment options for alcohol abuse work in different ways for different people. Regarding treatment, however, one thing is unmistakable: the longer an individual stays away from drinking alcohol, the more likely he or she will be able to avoid alcohol treatment.

Traditional Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Treatment Options

There are numerous traditional alcoholism treatment therapies that are well established, widely available, and effective. The following represents a sample of these therapeutic approaches.

Detoxification. Alcohol detoxification is the process of letting the body get rid of the ingested alcohol while controlling and managing the withdrawal symptoms in a safe manner.

This type of treatment, moreover, is typically done under the supervision of a medical practitioner and is frequently employed as the first step in an alcoholic treatment program.

Behavioral Treatments such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Motivation Enhancement Therapy, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

It should be pointed out that a study undertaken by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) revealed that each of these behavioral treatment therapies greatly minimized drinking in patients the year after treatment.

On the other hand, and not surprisingly, the NIAAA did not establish any of these treatment methodologies as the "most effective."


Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Alcoholics Anonymous is a mutual support program for recovering alcoholics that is based on the 12-steps of recovery that are needed in order stay sober. Help and support are provided by the meetings that meet on a regular basis.

While AA has proven to be an effective therapeutic approach, most practitioners outside of AA, as well as many people within AA, find that Alcoholics Anonymous works best when combined with other forms of treatment, including medical care and psychotherapy.

Motivation Enhancement Therapy (MET) is a systematic therapeutic approach that is almost diametrically opposed to AA in that it uses motivational strategies to activate the client's own change resources. Some of the key characteristics of MET are the following:

  • Helping the client achieve self-efficacy or a sense of optimism

  • Providing feedback regarding the personal risks or damage associated with the abuse

  • Emphasis on taking personal responsibility for positive change

  • Receiving clear advice to make healthy changes

  • Providing the client with a number of alternative change options

  • Therapist empathy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). There are several forms of cognitive behavior therapy. Most of them, however, have the following commonalties:

  • CBT is structured and directive.

  • CBT uses the Socratic Method that is based on the asking of questions for insight.

  • CBT approaches are based on the cognitive model of emotional response. That is, if we change the way we think, we can act and feel better, even if the situation doesn't change.

  • Homework is a central feature of CBT.

  • CBT usually has therapeutic sessions that are briefer and fewer in number than most other forms of therapy.

  • In CBT, a solid therapeutic relationship is necessary but not the primary focal point for effective therapy.

  • CBT is a mutually shared effort between the therapist and the client.

  • CBT is based on an educational model that views most emotions and behavioral reactions as learned responses. Thus, the therapeutic goal in to help the client unlearn undesirable reactions and emotions and replace them with new and more positive ways of feeling and reacting.

  • CBT theory and techniques rely on the Inductive Method.

  • This method has clients look at their thoughts as hypotheses (or suggested explanations) that can be tested and questioned. If clients discover that their hypotheses are incorrect, they can then change their thoughts and feelings to be more in line with reality.

  • CBT is based on stoic philosophy. CBT does not tell clients how they should feel. Rather, this form of therapy focuses on helping clients learn how to think more logically and effectively.

Therapeutic Medications. This treatment approach centers on the client taking doctor-prescribed medications such as naltrexone (ReViaT) or disulfiram (Antabuse) in an attempt to help prevent the person from returning to drinking after he or she has alcohol consumption.

Antabuse is a drug given to alcoholics that elicits negative effects such as flushing, dizziness, vomiting, and nausea if alcohol is ingested.

Antabuse is effective mainly because it is a strong deterrent. Naltrexone (ReViaT), on the other hand, targets the brain's reward circuits and is effective because it reduces the craving the client has for alcohol.

Outpatient Counseling. There are various approaches to counseling that teach alcoholics how to become aware of the psychological and the situational "hot buttons" that elicit their drinking behavior.

Armed with this information, alcoholics can thus learn about different ways in which they can deal with their feelings and circumstances that do not include the use of alcohol. These types of therapies are typically offered on an outpatient basis.

Counseling. Because the recovery process is so intimately tied to the support the client receives from his or her family, numerous alcohol dependency programs include family counseling and marital counseling as key components in the treatment process.

Such therapeutic programs, moreover, may also provide clients with essential community resources, such as parenting classes, job training, legal assistance, financial management classes, and childcare courses.

Alternative Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Treatment

Although the research findings are not clear, there are some alternative treatment approaches for alcohol abuse and alcoholism that are becoming more mainstream and widely used.

Examples include "Drumming out Drugs" (a form of therapy that employs the use of drumming by clients), the holistic and naturalistic approaches employed by Traditional Chinese Medicine, and various vitamin and supplement therapies have been proposed as "natural" ways to treat alcohol abuse.

As promising as these alternative approaches are, more research is needed to establish the effectiveness of such therapeutic approaches to alcohol abuse and alcoholism.

The Form of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse Treatment

The form of alcohol abuse and alcoholism treatment you receive depends on a number of factors:

  • Your personal health care coverage

  • The resources available in your community

  • Whether you want to involve yourself with traditional alcoholism approaches or alternative treatment options

  • The severity of your condition

  • Whether you have the financial resources for the treatment of choice

Conclusion: Treatment Options for Alcohol Abuse

Different treatment options for alcohol abuse work in diverse ways for different people. Like any chronic disease, however, there are varying degrees of success regarding treatment.


For example, some individuals who receive treatment refrain from drinking and remain sober.

Others who abuse alcohol experience relatively long periods of sobriety after treatment, and then have a drinking relapse.

With respect to treatment, however, one thing is clear: the longer a person stays away from alcohol, the more likely he or she will be able to remain sober and steer clear of alcohol rehab.